When discussing Thomas Dale baseball, Virginia Commonwealth centerfielder Bill Cullen is one of the names bound to come up. The VCU junior had a dazzling career as a two-way player on the diamond for the Knights, departing with career rankings in the top five overall in doubles, triples, home runs, runs scored, stolen bases as a hitter and on the mound in wins and strikeouts. Cullen was truly a standout on the field and in the classroom.
“No matter what, we always got Bill’s best effort whether he was on the mound, at the plate or in the outfield,” said Thomas Dale head baseball coach Chris Marshall. “He’s one of the all-time greats to play at Thomas Dale.”
VCU baseball has always had a focus for recruiting top local talent. Under late head coach Paul Keyes, current head coach Shawn Stiffler was in charge of that process for the Rams. The speedy, left-handed hitting Cullen jumped on the VCU radar as a junior when Stiffler saw him playing with the AAU Richmond Braves.
“At that point, he hit the ball like he was six foot tall,” explained Stiffler. (Cullen is currently listed as 5’9) “He had plenty of speed and we target guys like that because our outfield is so big.”
After the recruiting process, Cullen chose VCU.
“I really liked the way VCU played,” said Cullen. “It was also a huge positive that it was close enough [to Chester] for my dad and family to come and watch my games.”
As a freshman, Cullen hit .324 with 12 doubles, 33 RBI and 15 stolen bases while starting 51 games. For this performance he earned All-Colonial Athletic Association second team honors and also earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honors.
As a sophomore, Cullen saw his numbers jump in a big way. He started in all 59 games for the Rams, hitting .347 with 25 doubles, nine triples, and five home runs while collecting 40 RBI.
This season, the VCU lead-off hitter is off to a great start statistically, leading the team in batting average (.364), home runs (3), total bases (39), slugging percentage (.591) and on-base percentage (.500).
“He [Cullen] has really matured offensively,” explained Stiffler. “He’s our catalyst; he’s our best player but he’s also our hardest worker.”
Cullen routinely beats the coaching staff to the park on game day to work on his swing in the cage. Stiffler acknowledges that Cullen’s leadership and work ethic sets the tone for the entire team.
“I like to do a lot of tee work, and play front toss,” explained Cullen. “I just want to keep improving and keep getting better every day.”
Cullen also credits his defensive improvements, mainly his defensive throwing and treks to the ball to Coach Keyes.
The junior has helped lead VCU to a 12-9 start on the season.
“He’s off to a good start, so this helped us get off to a good start,” explained Stiffler.
A quick Google search shows that Cullen is popping up on blogs as a potential professional player, and he’s eligible to be drafted after this season.
“He’s definitely showing up on some teams’ radars,” said Stiffler. “They see the type of power he has for someone who doesn’t have a big frame,” he continued. “Bill needs to become the best college player he can be first, and then he may have an opportunity to play professionally.”
Cullen, along with L.C. Bird pitcher Bryce Harman, are looking to become the first players drafted from the area since former Matoaca pitcher Eric Curtis was selected by the Red Sox in the 28th round in 2009.
“We are extremely proud of Bill’s accomplishments,” said Marshall. “It has been no surprise; we knew his passion and talent for the game would shine through at the next level.”
VCU will be back at the Diamond on April 12 to open a three-game series with Temple. For updates on VCU baseball, follow head coach Shawn Stiffler on twitter @ShawnStiffler29. Also follow @VNewsSports for all of your updates on Dale, Bird, Matoaca and Meadowbrook spring sports.